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QueensLine: Some things never change as ‘35 blizzard cripples boro

In January 1935, College Point was in the news as fire swept the L.B. Kleinert Co. Factory at 26th Avenue between 127th and 128th streets. Starting in the acid room of the rubber manufacturing plant, the fire was discovered by a watchman at 2:30 a.m. The Flushing fire command was out on another call, so the assignment was handled by Battalion Chief Uhl of Bayside.

The building burned vigorously as wind-whipped flames were fed by acids and chemicals and it quickly grew to three alarms. Help arrived from as far out as Long Island’s North Shore and a tower from the Bronx was carried across the East River by ferry. One fireman was knocked unconscious when a ladder fell on him.

The following day, ice coated the building. The fire completely destroyed one section of a top floor. More than 125 employees were out of work.

It was the heart of the Great Depression and many factories were idle in Manhattan and Queens, particularly in industrial communities like College Point and Long Island City. The temporary Emergency Relief Administration sought a plan to get them up and running again, but met little success.

When someone wrote to Executive Director Robert Boyd urging him to look into using idle plants to help jump-start the economic recovery, he wrote back, “Except in a few cases, such as the fabrication of mattress and quilts for distribution to relief roles, there is no scheme to reduce unemployment using existing plants. I am not hopeful that the near future holds any scheme or money will be made available for the creation of work projects.”

Students who were Communist sympathizers staged a demonstration in the halls of Newtown High School and police were called to eject them. The protesters demanded a cut in school lunch prices and free food for children of the unemployed.

The principal, Dr. James Dillingham, denied that the trouble was serious and had the protesters removed from the building. He said to the press, “Many people come into the school during the day, some to see children, to make complaints, to bring praise. We always give these things courteous attention. There was no disorderly demonstration. They are not [local] students but college men from CCNY.”

Earlier that week, four students on the bridge at 91st Place gave out handbills listing demands from the city Board of Education. One of the students claimed they were expelled from school for their protests. During the night, someone painted on sidewalks in front of every school in Corona a red hammer and sickle.

Although school officials tried to promptly scrub them away, they remained visible for days afterward. When a girl refused to salute the American flag at school event held in a Queens park, the press reported it as an example of the influence of Communist propaganda. Mailboxes and lobbies were cluttered with Communist literature in Elmhurst.

The King Neptune Fountain in Flushing, long an eyesore to many residents of the North Shore, was soon to be removed by the city Parks Department. The modern generation, which scoffed at Victorian compositions of cast-iron art, no longer considered it suitable for the modern age.

The statue was set up by the town of Flushing before its 1898 consolidation into greater New York.

On a typical day at the Queensboro Bridge, 10 horse-drawn vehicles headed to Queens and nine back to Manhattan. On that basis, the Star-Journal surmised that the horse population in Queens was slowly growing. A study revealed that 103,151 vehicles used the bridge in one day. More than 80,000 vehicles were passenger cars; the balance were trucks.

After a recent blizzard, snow removal broke down as charges flew that the city Sanitation Department fell short to keep open roads. After 36 hours with streets uncleaned, concerns grew of a fire hazard. Borough President Harvey, whose office was flooded with complaints, lashed out at City Hall, accusing it as Manhattan-centric.

He said to the press, “This is another example of the ‘efficiency’ of centralized government. An office in Manhattan does not have the right perspective. It cannot comprehend adequately the conditions in Queens. Department of Sanitation has taken snow removal from the Queens Borough of Streets. This is what you voted for!”

Overzealous ticketing and summons to snowbound and abandoned vehicles added to the misery. Of the 134,000 on unemployment roles, 3,300 were hired to clear snow.

For more information, call the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 718-278-0700 or visit astorialic.org.

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